PRC, Wisconsin-Madison joint venture offers image-oriented weather system

PRC and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center (UW SSEC) have teamed up to develop and sell an image-oriented weather system to government and commercial users.

The system, called Advanced McIDAS (Man Computer Interactive Data Access System), is based upon PRC system software and UW SSEC application software. The system architecture has elements in common with the Automated Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) that PRC is developing for the National Weather Service, said Dan Blacker, the Advanced McIDAS product manager at PRC.

Timing Is Crucial

The release of the system is timed to coincide with the modernization of NWS forecasting systems, which now process and distribute a growing wealth of data from satellites, radar and other sources, Blacker said.

"We're trying to be positioned to serve this market," he said, adding that this system will provide forecasting capabilities that "are complementary to the Weather Service."

PRC and the UW SSEC have been developing Advanced McIDAS since the spring of last year. The university first developed McIDAS in the 1970s and started deploying the system, mainly to federal agencies, in the 1980s. The first big user of McIDAS was NOAA's Storm Prediction Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The initial release of the upgraded McIDAS system will be delivered to the Weather Channel this fall, Blacker said. PRC also is installing Advanced Mc-IDAS capabilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla., in a program to upgrade the Air Force Meteorological Interactive Data Display Systems at those locations.

Advantages of Teaming

Robert Fox, executive director of UW SSEC, said the teaming arrangement will allow the center to focus on what it does best. "We found we were doing more systems work and more marketing in places in the world we knew nothing about," Fox said. "We're good at meteorological research, so we tried to figure out how to make this product readily available without us doing the system installation and maintenance work."

There are many applications for Advanced McIDAS, Blacker and Fox said, and the market is wide open.

Advanced McIDAS is set up so it can receive data from any source - either directly from a satellite, for example, or from a database. Forecasters can pull up a satellite picture on-screen, plot temperature and wind fields, complete moisture analyses and display water vapor imagery.

"They can then under- or overlay that onto a model forecast field. There are literally thousands of things that can be done," Fox said. "McIDAS forecasters can apply the tools how they want."

Prices for Advanced McIDAS vary widely because the system is scalable. Prices are based upon the cost of either a runtime or source license, in which PRC licenses the source code itself. Users will be able to "evolve the system for their own special needs," Blacker said.

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